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Is Google’s Manipulation of Internet Marketing Ethical?

Outside the walls of Google’s headquarters, who really knows exactly how they rank search results? For Internet marketing experts, figuring it out is usually a matter of looking at the results, seeing

what the top-ranked pages are doing, and concluding that Google rewards that kind of content.

But when the government—specifically the Federal Trade Commission—suspected that Google was engaging in less-than-ethical activity to boost certain companies’ rankings, they went straight to the company to find out what was going on. This all took place back in the first few months of 2013, and we are now learning about the investigation’s conclusions.

Google’s Brands Got a Little Help

The FTC investigation concluded that Google gave brands that it owned (like Zagat and Google Shopping) priority over competitors in search page rankings, even when the competitors’ pages should have ranked higher based on the keywords used. Even when Google’s brand didn’t give the searcher as much valuable content as its competitor, it still ranked higher in the results.

“Scraping” from Other Sites

The FTC also found that Google “scraped” information from other websites. This means that the search engine used customer reviews, sales data, and other information from competitors to provide information to searchers within Google’s search results. This isn’t really plagiarism, but it is a bit sneaky to use that information without crediting its source.

Unethical But Not Illegal

Many Internet marketing consultants were somewhat puzzled by the FTC’s very mild treatment of the findings. Google has agreed to stop engaging in the questionable skewing of search results and scraping information from competing websites, but the FTC did not impose any penalties or fines on the company for the past activity. Did Google get off too easy? There is sure to be plenty of discussion in Internet marketing circles about the conclusion of this case in the coming weeks and months.

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